Blue Earth farmer ‘swims’ in the river to bring awareness to water quality, good health
By Carlienne A. Frisch
It’s not because Scott Haase (pronounced Haze) appreciates the discipline of immersing himself every month in the Blue Earth River that runs past his aptly named Blue Dirt Farm. It’s not even because he believes the practice is good for his body, which he does. The most important reason this 42-year-old farmer has taken a dip in the Blue Earth River, or another source of cold water, every single month of the year is to draw attention to the quality of the river water. With no organized promotion or publicity, news of his activities has spread by word-of-mouth and social media.
“I want to raise some awareness,” Haase said, “to get people to be aware of the quality of the water. The community of Blue Earth is nearly surrounded by the Blue Earth River’s main branch coming from the Union Slough in Iowa. I want people to remember the river is here. The biggest problem is that sediment and various pollutants have gotten much worse over the years, including nitrates from fertilizers. If we cleaned up the river, we could actually drink the water.” (Currently, residents get their water from city wells.)
“A few winters back, I made it a point to go into the river, which borders my farm property, at least once a month throughout the winter. I’d not go the coldest days, but it was pretty cold some of those times I went. It does a lot of good for our physiology.” (Many Minnesota residents are aware that the tradition for immersing oneself in cold water, year around, is common in some cultures, such as the Finnish practice of following a steamy sauna with a plunge in cold water).
Haase learned about immersing himself in cold water from the writings and podcasts of Wim Hof, a Dutchman who maintains that proper exposure to the cold provides health benefits, including balanced hormone levels, improved sleep quality and the production of endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in our brains that produce a happy mood.
Haase said, “Going into the river in January absolutely provides physical benefits. It feels good when you’re done—euphoric. If you think of all the blood vessels in your body—they have muscular walls. I think we’ve over domesticated ourselves. If there’s no physical stress for our body, then the mind is stressed. Physical stressors don’t stay with us, not like psychological stressors.”
Haase began dipping into the Blue Earth River five years ago and has occasionally taken part in winter dipping with groups in the Twin Cities. They can be found on social media, including Facebook, with names like Nightwater, Butterflies and Twin Cities Cold Thermogenesis. He wears shorts into the river all year ‘round and said of his regular river immersion, “It helps to develop mental toughness, our mind and our will power, to teach yourself you can do things you don’t want to do. That’s very useful in life.”
Woolly hogs and crops
Haase’s concern for the environment extends to his farming practices. On his 1,400-acre farm, which abuts the Blue Earth River on the river’s west side, Haase raises woolly hogs, corn and non-GMO soybeans. Haase explained that GMOs are genetically modified organisms that have had DNA (genetic) sequences artificially inserted in their genomes so that they can withstand spraying by herbicides (weed killers).
“I’d like to get out of the conventional agriculture, the corn and soybeans,” Haase said. “I would like to raise more livestock, probably beef cattle, opening the opportunities for grazing. I’ve grown small grains and legumes and follow the principles for soil health.”
Hogs from Hungary
The most unusual aspect of Haase’s farm operation may be the Mangalitsa pigs.
“I had no experience with cattle, and I knew I wanted to start raising pigs because they seemed approachable. I was looking to purchase feeder pigs and heard about the Mangalitsa at a farm meeting.” he said.
Haase learned about the woolly hog breed from Mankato farmer Mark Peterson. The breed, originally from Hungary, became nearly extinct in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, the Mangalitsa began to be imported to the United States. Haase commented, “It’s good they didn’t go extinct. The offspring cost more, and people are unaware of what makes good genetic material. It’s a lard breed, developed for its fat, but it has fine bone structure.”
Haase and a brother who takes part in the farm operation began with five pigs and now have 55, but they don’t breed them.
“I don’t raise all purebreds because some people want less fat, so we cross with Berkshire hogs. I’m raising the animals so they can express their instincts and be happier and healthier. My goal is, the closer they can look to wild, the more they are expressing their behavior,” he said. “We give them space, but they don’t have the run of the whole farm. They spend their time outdoors, with rudimentary shelters of straw piles for them to burrow into. They have big, woolly coats and fat that keeps them warm.”
Haase focuses not only on managing the herd in a near-wild experience, but also on marketing the meat to individuals, food co-ops and a cafe. He noted that all of the hogs are butchered at a USDA-inspected plant.
He enjoys the benefits of being a pork producer, saying, “I like pork steak, cut really thick, with lots of fat and marbling throughout.”
Turkeys are another ‘crop’
As with the pigs, Haase began his turkey flock small. He said, “About five years ago, we started with about a dozen turkeys. Now we have 60.”
Like with the pigs, Haase provides as natural an environment as possible for the gobblers.
“In the daytime, they are outdoors in a pen, on fresh vegetation. Most of the turkeys go into a building overnight, but some fly into trees,” he said.
Although Haase has not continued making his immersion in the Blue Earth River a monthly event, he does believe in the health benefits of cold water immersion year ‘round and continues that practice. He now has the option of immersing himself in a large container of cold water on his property. Whether he’s providing a natural environment for pigs and turkeys or dipping into the Blue Earth River year ‘round, Haase lives his life on his own terms while caring for the environment.